TWO NIGHTS IN BANGKOK
WORDS: CINDY BOTTOMLEY
O&A Team member, Cindy Bottomley, together with hubby, Tony, has headed out for a sabbatical in Thailand and will be writing back to her homeland regularly with her Mzanzi glasses firmly in place. If you like, it’s a case of a South African in Siam (the country’s historical name) reminiscent of Sting’s Englishman in New York. She’ll be sharing what’s different, what reminds her of home and, most of all what she learns along the way. This time round, she shares some thoughts on their arrival in the bustling capital of Bangkok.
Landing in Bangkok after the quietness of being in an aeroplane for many hours was quite a ‘waker-upper’. You know that dumbed-down zone you get into, going from plane to airport, to connecting flight, back into a plane – then into the hustle and bustle of a city in all it’s colourful, noisy glory?
We landed in the evening – and this is a city that has even more life at night! The streets were teeming with cars, taxi’s, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and many many scooters. Some of the streets are so skinny that you can’t see how everyone can fit but, somehow, they do and it works.
It is the same for the electrical cables. As a South African with an Eskom befuddled brain, I have never seen so many cables on electricity poles. Not ever – but, somehow it works!
There are people from all over the world everywhere. In the bars, restaurants, walking along the pavements, all out looking for places to eat, drink and make merry. And the food! There is amazing food everywhere. All types of cuisine, but you know what they say ‘when in Rome … etc. and Thai food really is delicious. So, we decided to be adventurous and try the local cuisine from the get go.
There is such a wonderful array of street food – snacks, fruits, vegetables, meats on sticks, seafood, stir fries and desserts and, price wise, it’s all very reasonable. Obviously, if you decide to eat in a restaurant you will pay more.
The next day, we took a walk around the block and, again, went past food vendors and stalls selling various items.
Looking at the roads, I have to say that I take my hat off to anyone who can navigate the roads in the traffic. It’s queues of cars, taxi’s and buses while the motorbikes, tuk-tuks and scooters are winding between these vehicles. One gent had all his wares hanging up around the sides of his motorbike so the
only open section was a small ‘window’ at the front and the back. I really am not sure what happens when you need to look left or right to change lanes or turn without colliding into something but he seems to have mastered the art.
Our destination was Terminal 21 – a huge shopping centre. It was so high that looking down from the top floor actually made me feel a bit giddy. But I am not a lover of extreme heights so that was to be expected, I think. Some of the shops are the ones we see in our malls, but there are a lot of boutiques and shops that I have never seen, so that was interesting. It’s always satisfying to see other types of items being sold when you are away from home rather than the ‘same old, same old’.
The attention to detail in the mall was amazing. With some really imaginative ideas for decorating pillars which made the mall an art / entertainment experience all on its own.
I must say, it gets really warm here – much like Durban on a hot day and it’s not even summer yet, so I think we spent a lot of time in the mall simply because it had air conditioning!
Something I must mention is going to the bathroom/toilet. We have taken it for granted that we sit on the toilet, do our thing, wipe ourselves, flush and off we go. But not here. There are some regular toilets but, more often than not, you will have to squat strategically over an opening in the ground and do your business. And most places, even ones with toilet seats like we are used to, do not want you throwing toilet paper into the system. There is a bin for the used paper – that is, if there is paper.
In almost all the toilets, you will see a hose sprayer which is called a squirty or bum gun and this you use to get your bottom nice and clean after using the loo. There are some wonderful videos on YouTube explaining how exactly to use this. I am quite sure there has been many a mishap with foreigners using the squirty but let’s not get too graphic.
I know quite a few people who, once they have used them, have installed one when they have returned home, so it obviously makes you feel nice and clean!
Driving out of the city two days later gave me a chance to look over an area of Bangkok and I did get to see a small section of the city showing some more modern, tall buildings and newer homes amongst the old.
I guess there’s still plenty to explore when we return to this vibrant city. But we were already heading inland for a more authentic experience of the hinterland.
Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is a large and bustling city that is known for everything from ornate shrines and vibrant street life to the boat-filled Chao Phraya River and its network of canals which passes the ornate royal palace. This colourful, noisy and mesmerising city dates back to the 15th century. Today, it is home to an estimated 14 million people as well as a hive of activity for thousands of visitors. It is the busy centre of the country’s economy and credited with the modernisation of the ancient land of Siam which was later renamed Thailand. An investment boom in the eighties and nineties attracted many large corporations who set up their regional head offices in the city, transforming it into a centre of finance and business as well as food, fashion, arts and entertainment.
I must say, we really do feel privileged to have the opportunity to see this land as it really is. Even more special is that we get to experience more than what is presented to tourists in the main tourist destinations. We get a chance to travel around and come across areas of Thailand that are more ‘real’. We get to see and feel the normal day to day and, for a brief period, we will be walking in the footsteps of the Thai people.
At this point, we are now staying farther north, which looks like a wonderful mixture between the Midlands in KZN and the Drakensberg. I am surrounded by hills, growing vegetables, fruit and herbs. But that story is for another day…